Archive for the ‘Luxemburg’ Category

European Federalism, the EU and the German Resistance to Hitler

February 28, 2019

The rabid Eurosceptics of UKIP, the Leave campaign and various other groups frequently claim that the EU is the product of Nazism. James Goddard, the noxious, racist leader of the British ‘Yellow Vest’ movement, was filmed last week screaming ‘Nazi’ at Anna Soubry for her support of the Remain vote and a second referendum. He’s one of those, who believe that the EU really does owe its origin to the Nazis, and screamed this at Soubry as he subjected her to abuse. Well, Soubry is far right, but because of her contemptible attitude to the poor and refusal to hold a bye-election along with the other members of the Independent group. But she’s not a Nazi for supporting the EU, and Goddard and others, who believe that the EU was somehow spawned by Hitler and his thugs are simply wrong.

I was taught at school when we studied the EU that it had its origins in a series of economic arrangements creating free trade zones between France and Germany, and then Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, which were intended to stop the rise of such destructive nationalism and prevent further European wars. And the idea of a European parliament or federation to preserve peace long predates that. The Quaker William Penn in the 17th century wrote a pamphlet recommending a European parliament as a means of securing peace after the horrors of the 16th and 17th century wars of religion, including the Thirty Years’ War, in which 1/5 of the German population starved to death. In the 18th century, the great German philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote his The Peace of Europe, recommending a European federation, again as a means of stopping war. In the 19th century, the Italian revolutionary Mazzini also believed in a European federation as a means of guaranteeing peace.

Germany, with France, is one of the two mainstays of the EU. And while the EU has allowed Germany to dominate Europe economically, to the disadvantage of other nations, like the Greeks, that’s not why the German people support the EU. They support it because they genuinely believe it is needed to prevent the resurgence of militant nationalism, like that of the Nazis.

It also seems to me that some of this attitude goes back to the wartime Kreisau Circle, a movement of socialist and bourgeois intellectuals and anti-Nazi clergy, who met on the estate of the nobleman, Count Helmuth James Moltke in Kreisau in Silesia. They were determined to find a way to end the Nazi dictatorship and create a more just European order which would prevent such tyrannies ever returning. And this included a united, federal Europe. The German historian, Karl Dietrich Bracher, discusses the group’s ideas in his book, The German Dictatorship (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1970). Their ideas of a federal Europe are described on pages 544 -45. He writes

At the centre of the discussions of this multifaceted group were the internal reforms, the basis of the new post-Hitler order. The approach to foreign policy mentioned earlier points up the unique qualities but also the limitations of the Kreisau Circle: the break with nationalism; the movement towards a European internationalism rejecting both the French hegemony of Versailles and the old and new ideas on German hegemony; German-French and German-Polish understanding in the place of disputed territorial demands. These ideas were largely the work of the Socialists (Haubach, Leber and Reichwein); Leber had consistently maintained that the principles of economic cooperation and democratic domestic policy must also govern international relations. But Moltke and his friends, also departing from the historico-political traditional ideas of their class, spoke of the Europeanisation of political thought and of the need for revising the idea of the state as an end in itself. The problem of East German and East European nationality policies gave rise to the idea of a supranational, federalist solution. Moltke quite early had devoted himself to the problem of the minorities. This formed the basis on which cooperation with exponents of Socialist, internationalist concepts could be worked out. In some respects Moltke went even further by raising the seemingly utopian idea of the division of Germany and Europe into small, self-administered bodies. This type of radical federalism, which invoked the sovereignty of a European federation, meant a revolutionary break with nineteenth- and twentieth-century modes of thought, according to which the defence against ‘particularlism’ and support for the national unitary state was the highest law.

The practical proposals of the Kreisau Circle lagged far behind such radical models. But even more ‘realistic’ supporters of a moderate national idea like Trott zu Solz made the preservation of the existing states dependent on a restricted sovereignty in favour of a European federation. While Moltke represented the most consistent moral and legalistic position and was highly critical of appeasement and its disregard of international principles of law in favour of national revisionism. Trott believed that concessions to the traditional national principle were indispensable. But in 1938 he, too, unlike Goerdeler, came out for the 1933 borders and against territorial claims; central to his idea of Europe was German-British cooperation. Beyond that, Trott expressly stressed the role of the working class, in which ‘a strong tradition of international cooperation and rational politics’ still lived on. Apparently he had in mind in particular the example of the United States, and he visualised a unified Europe with a common economic policy and citizenship, a ‘joint highest court’, and possibly also a European army. Leaving aside the question of whether or not some of the visionary details were realistic, the basic idea of a non-nationalist Europe in which neither a strong France nor a strong Germany would tip the scales offered a more constructive vision of the future and also more persuasive alternative to Hitler than the regressive ideas of Goerdeler. (My emphasis.)

This, I think, is where some of the origins of the EU lie. And definitely not in Nazi propaganda about a European union of states under German domination to fight communism. When Goddard, the Kippers and the other anti-EU fanatics spout that the EU was created by the Nazis, they’re flat out wrong. And revealing their own poisonous ultra-nationalism in the process.

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Raheem Kassam Knows Zilch about Fascism, Imperialism, Nationalism or Socialism. And Definitely not History

January 21, 2019

In my last piece, I discussed a twitter argument between Raheem Kassam, one of the most vehement leaders of the ‘Leave’ campaign, and James Melville on Twitter. The row had erupted when Kassam started moaning about how left-wingers were reporting his comments to Twitter in the hope of getting him thrown off social media. Melville had no sympathy for him, telling Kassam that he was reaping what he sowed after Kassam had put up a piece himself telling his supporters to pile onto Melville’s own account and hound him off the Net. And when Kassam put up a picture of Churchill in a yellow vest, Melville rhetorically asked him if he knew that Winnie had been an opponent of far right extremism. Which brought forth the following tirade from Kassam:

Lol now this guy who had a meltdown yesterday is going through my feed picking out tweets he thinks he can argue with. Churchill defeated imperialistic (opposite of nationalist) National Socialism (opposite of right wing) which wanted a united Europe under Germany (EU)”.

Which was followed by

“Fascism is an ideology. Conservatism is a philosophy. There’s your first problem in attempting to link the two. Fascism concerned itself with a corporate-state nexus (like socialism, and indeed our current pro-EU system does). Your understanding of philosophy is poor”.

Zelo Street commented on the relationship between Nazism and imperialism by pointing out that the Nazis were nationalists, far right and had zero relationship to the EU. Melville himself pointed out that Hitler and the Nazis were Fascists and right-wing extremists.

Kassam’s views on Nazism, the EU, Fascism and socialism are bonkers, but they’re a staple part of much Libertarian and ‘Leave’ campaign ideology. They follow Jonah Goldberg, the author of Liberal Fascism, in believing that the Nazis were socialists because, er, the Nazis said they were. Despite the fact that Hitler staunchly supported capitalism, did not want to nationalize any firms except in emergencies, smashed the trade unions and put their leaders and activists in the concentration camps along with leaders and members of the mainstream German socialist party, the SDP, the Communist KPD, and anarchists, as well as other political opponents. Kassam also doesn’t seem to realize, or doesn’t want to admit, that the Nazis and Italian Fascists were very much nationalists. The full name of the Nazi party was the National Socialist German Workers Party. And unlike the ‘socialist’ part of their name and programme, they took nationalism very seriously. Only ethnic Germans could legally be citizens. German industry, values and identity, or rather the Nazi version of them, were aggressively promoted.

The Italian Fascists were exactly the same, although they retained the trade unions, but incorporated them into the machinery of state government and control and made them subservient to the state and private industry. At the same time, private industry was aggressively promoted. The Fascists also aggressively pursued a policy of italianita – Italian national identity. Ethnic minorities within Italian borders, such as those communities which spoke German or one of the Yugoslavian languages were to be forced to become Italian and made to speak Italian. At the same time the party absorbed much of the ideology and finally the party of the Italian Nationalists, which was merged with the Fascists in 1922.

Kassam is right about Hitler wanting a united Europe under Germany. However, he did not want anything like the EU. The EU supposedly is a union of democratic states with equal status. It is not an empire nor an occupying power, although fanatics like UKIP have claimed it is. The claim that the Nazis were the founders of the EU is based on a piece of Nazi ideology devised later during the War when they were losing to Stalin and the Soviet Union. They weren’t enough blonde, ethnic Germans to fight the Russians, who were showing very clearly that they definitely weren’t the ‘subhumans’ of Nazi racial doctrine. So they tried to gain support from the occupied countries by spuriously claiming that Nazism stood for a united, capitalist Europe against the Communist threat. It was a piece of propaganda, nothing more. The real origins of EU lay in the 1950s with trade agreements between France and Germany and the establishment of the customs union between Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg – the ‘Benelux’ countries.

Then there’s Kassam’s claptrap about corporativism equals socialism. By corporativism they mean state control or regulation of capitalism. The hardcore Libertarians believe that only an economy absolutely run by private enterprise without any state regulation is really capitalist. But this situation has never existed. Governments since the Middle Ages have regulated industry to a greater or lesser degree, and industrialists, merchants and entrepreneurs have always sought state aid. For example, before Adam Smith wrote his Wealth of Nations promoting laissez faire free trade, the dominant commercial ideology in Britain was mercantilism. This was a system of regulations governing British international trade. This included tying the colonies in North America and the Caribbean into a very constraining relationship with Britain and each other in which their exports were rigidly controlled in order to keep them serving the commercial interests of Britain.

From the ’50s to the end of the ’70s there was also a form of corporativism in Britain, in which the economy was subject to state planning in which the government consulted with both the industrialists and the trade unions. It was somewhat like the Fascist version, but within a democratic framework and pursued by both Labour and Tory governments. The current form of corporativism, in which private industry dominates and controls Congress and elected politicians through political donations and sponsorship, in return receiving government posts and determining government policy, is very much in the sole interests of private industry and capitalism.

But I’m not surprised Kassam doesn’t know anything about this. He is, after all, a hack with the extreme right-wing news organization, Breitbart, and has appeared several times in articles by the anti-racist, anti-religious extremism organization Hope Not Hate because of his vicious islamophobia. As for his distinction between Conservatism and Fascism, this also doesn’t work. Fascism is notoriously fluid ideologically, and is therefore extremely difficult to define. In many ways, it was whatever line Mussolini thought was a good idea at the time. The Duce wrote a book defining it, The Doctrine of Fascism, but contradicted himself the next year by declaring that Fascism had no doctrine. It was a movement, not an ideology. As for Conservatism, while the Tory philosopher Roger Scruton in his 1980s book on it stated that it was largely ‘mute’, it is also ideological. As it stands now, it promotes private enterprise and attacks state involvement in industry and welfare provision. And a recent academic study quoted in the new edition of Lobster, issue 77, states that Conservative parties in the West are becoming more ideological and are increasingly resembling the authoritarian parties of the former Communist bloc.

Kassam is therefore utterly wrong. Socialism is not corporativism, and the modern form of corporativism is very definitely capitalist. The Nazis weren’t socialists, they were nationalists and imperialists, and were in no way the founders of the EU. But such distinctions clearly don’t matter to the extreme right-wing propagandists of Breitbart. And especially those, whose own islamophobia is shared by real, overt Fascists in the Alt Right.

For further information, go to the Zelo Street article at http://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/01/raheem-kassam-fails-history-101.html

Fabian Pamphlet on the Future of Industrial Democracy: Part 2

November 11, 2017

This is the second part of my article on William McCarthy’s Fabian pamphlet, The Future of Industrial Democracy, published in 1988.

The section on Ideas in chapter 3: Composition and Principles of Representation runs as follows

At this stage all one can do is propose a number of suggestions and options for further consideration by the Movement. I therefore advance the following cockshy in an attempt to start a debate. No doubt it fails to grapple with many of the problems and oversimplifies others. It should be regarded as written with the lightest of pencils. Three ideas come to mind.

First, why not retain the Bullock notion of a universal enabling ballot, to test whether workers in a given firm or establishment wish to exercise their statutory rights to participation? As the Bullock Report recognised unions would retain the right to “trigger” such a ballot in the groups they represented. Well-intentioned employers, in association with recognised unions, could agree to recommend the establishment of such statutory councils; but there would be a need to be a ballot of all workers involved.

Where a majority of workers voting favoured the establishment of participative rights the employer would be under a legal obligation to establish statutory joint councils. The composition of the workers’ side would be broadly defined by statute, as would be their powers and right. Management would be free to decide its own representatives who served on the council, but the statute would specify the obligations of the employee.

Second, why not let worker representatives emerge by means of a universal secret ballot-open to both unionists and non-unionists-with recognised unions enjoying certain prescribed rights of nomination? Here there a considerable number of European examples to choose from. In France and Luxembourg as I understand it, only unions can nominate for the “first round” of elections. If less than 50 per cent of the electorate vote there is a second election and any worker can nominate. In Belgium unions have an exclusive right to nominate “lists” of candidates where they have representative rights; non-unionists may make nominations elsewhere. Alternatively, there are systems where a given number of workers can nominate if unions fail to provide sufficient nominations. In the Netherlands, for example, any thirty workers can nominate in the larger enterprises, if unions fail to do so. In Germany any three workers can put up a candidate. For myself I favour certain limited rights of nomination in cases where unions are recognised. This is the area where the spectre of “company unionism” is most easily perceived and rightly resisted.

Third, why not specify that in areas where unions can demonstrate that they have members but no recognition any “appropriate” union has the right to make nominations? This need not prevent a given number of workers from enjoying analogous rights.

The section on Legal Framework also says

The best possible combination of nomination and electoral arrangements needs further thought than I can give it as this point. What I believe is that given suitable arrangements it would be possible both to safeguard the position of established unions and create conditions favourable to trade union growth; yet it would not be necessary to insist on a quasi-monopoly of representative rights confined to recognised unions. I suggest that after further debate within the Movement, Labour should propose an enabling statute which provides for joint participation councils in all private firms employing more than 500. The figure of 500 is itself open to debate. But in this way, I estimate it would be possible to show that the intention was to provide participation opportunities for something like 50 per cent of the private sector labour force. A worthwhile beginning to further advance, based on experience and proven worth. Where it was evident that a company employing more than 500 was divided into more than one “establishment” or was composed of a group of companies under the overall control of a “holding company” or its equivalent, power would exist to demand additional joint councils, with rights related to decisions taken at appropriate management levels.

Consideration would need to be given to the creation of a similar framework of rights in appropriate parts of the public sector of employment. So far as I can see there is no good reason why workers in the nationalised industries, national and local government or the NHS should be deprived of statutory rights to participate in management decisions affecting their working lives. No doubt the representation of “management” will pose different problems, the appropriate levels of joint councils will need to be tailor-made to fit different parts of the public sector and there will be different problems of confidentiality. But I doubt if the needs of workers and the benefits to both employers and the public will be found to be all that different.

It will be said that this cockshy for further consideration is superficial, with several critical problems and difficulties left unresolved. Those who like its general drift, but feel fear that the sceptics may have a case, could not do better than look again at some of the less publicised parts of the Bullock Report. One of the more lasting services performed by the Committee of Inquiry was that it set out to explore and overcome almost all the practical objections that could be raised to any form of statutorily based workers’ participation (see Bullock op. cit. chapters 11 and 12).

For this reason its says wise and relevant things about the need to avoid allowing all kinds of exceptions to a participation law, based on the alleged differences that are said to exist in banks, shipping lines, building firms and other parts of the private sector where employers would like to escape the effect of legislation. It also provides a clear account of the problem of “confidentiality” and how best to deal with it. It makes a convincing case for an Industrial Democracy Commission (IDC) to administer and apply the legislation and monitor its effects in an objective and impartial way. (In our case an additional essential task for the IDC would be to decide when multi-level joint councils were justified in the case of a particular firm or group of firms.) Above all, perhaps, it provides a guide through the complexities of company structure-with its spider’s web of holding boards, subsidiary boards, parent companies, inter-locking “subsidiaries” and “intermediate” organisations. It even follows these labyrinth paths into the upper reaches of British and foreign-based multi-nationals.

Of course the Committee’s primary objective in tracing out the lines of corporate responsibility and influence was to decide how to apply its own benchmark of “2,000 or more employees”. After much consideration they decided that this should apply “…to the ultimate holding company of a group which in toto employs 2,000 or more people in the United Kingdom, as well as to any individual company which employs 2,000 or more people in the United Kingdom, whether or not it is part of a group” (Bullock, op. cit. p. 132).

With appropriate emendation to fit the lower thresholds advanced in this pamphlet the Bullock formula seems to me to provide the essence of the right approach.

It is also important to remember that the legal framework advanced above would its place alongside Labour’s overall programme for extending rights at work-eg the restoration of trade union rights, improved rights of recognition and an expansion of individual rights against employers in cases of unfair dismissal and discrimination. All British workers would gain from such a programme and good employers should have nothing to fear.

The proposals should also be seen against the background of the first report of the Labour Party National Executive Committee’s People at Work Policy Review Group, with its emphasis on the need for a new training initiative and action to raise economic efficiency and the quality of life at work.

A legal framework of the kind envisaged here would provide trade unions and trade unionists with unrivalled opportunities. In areas where unions were recognised union representatives would find it easier to service members and influence the decisions of management. In areas where non-unionism is now the norm there would be greater incentives to organise and recruit; it would be easier to demonstrate what unionisation could do and easier to move to a situation in which recognition became a natural development. Of course, unions and their workplace representatives would need to become experts in explaining and using the rights embodied in the new framework. There would be a need for professional and prompt guidance and support in local and national union offices.

Unions should also find it easier to tackle their media image as negative and reactionary forces-opposed to the narrow “consumerism” peddled by the Government and its allies: engaged in a perpetual battle against management-inspired improvements in productivity and efficiency. In time, and before very long, it should be possible to demonstrate the contribution which can be made by the right kind of alliance between management, workers and unions. Benighted market men and women can be relied upon to misunderstand and misrepresent any teething problems and difficulties that arise; but for trade unionists of all sorts and persuasions there will be very little to lose and a great deal to gain.

This article will conclude in Part 3, which will discuss the pamphlet’s last chapter, Summary and Conclusions.

Private Eye on Plans to Introduces Charges and Privatise Land Registry

April 27, 2016

This past fortnight’s Private Eye also has an article on the government’s plans to introduce charges for using the Land Registry, which they are also currently trying to privatise. Private Eye has covered the proposed privatisation in its ‘In the Back’ section, because of the threat this poses to freedom of information. The Eye has used the Land Registry to track some of the various companies holding vast chunks of land in our fair country back to offshore tax havens. The article runs

Cash Registry

No sooner has the last Eye gone to press, revealing the Land Registry’s plan to frustrate a supposed move towards transparency by charging thousands of pounds for information on offshore companies holding property, than business secretary Sajid Javid said the organisation would be privatised.

His time – as the Panama leaks again show the value of public access to who owns what land and property – was less than ideal.

There is no pretence that the sale, which will further threaten the 150-7ear-old body’s inclination to act in the public interest, is for any reason other than to raise around £1bn to reduce the national debt. This is about 0.06 per cent total government debt and far outweighed by the benefit that a publicly-owned, fully open register would provide in fighting tax evasion and corruption.

Javid claimed, with a straight face, that a privatised Land Registry would benefit from “private capital discipline” and that service would be protected by “key performance indicators” while creating “innovative, new products”. The people who use it, however, disagree fundamentally.

When the coalition floated the idea of farming the Land Registry out to a separate company in 2014, the response was resounding raspberry. Rejecting the plan, the government said: “91 percent of respondents did not acre that creating a more delivery-focused organisation at arm’s length from government would enable Land Registry to carry out its operations more efficiently and effectively.” Only 5 per cent thought it would.

Since most responses were from people working in the property business Javid now says he wants to serve, this was a resounding rejection of a step that was less dramatic than the privatisation now proposed. “Across the world, a trusted system of land registration is central to social stability and economic success,” said former Land Registrar John Manthorpe of the “misguided” plan.

So far one private equity group, Advent International, has expressed an interest. It already owns a number of businesses in the UK such as money transfer company Worldpay – not directly, of course, but through the tax haven of Luxembourg. Just the people for a “trusted system of land registration”.
(Private Eye, 15th-28th April, p. 1).

I don’t agree with the Eye’s conclusion that the privatisation is being done to pay off the debt. The money raised from the sale is too small to make any difference. It looks to me far more to be another ideologically-driven privatisation, done largely to provide their big business donors with yet another state industry. And the charging and privatisation is also being done to keep it out of the reach of the general public, who could use it to draw the highly embarrassing information about British capitalism and landownership that the Eye has done from using it.

Tory Lies Alert! House of Lords Purpose to Check Taxation, Not Laws

November 1, 2015

Tory Lies Drawing

I’ve come to the conclusion that the Tory party is constitutionally incapable of telling the truth. They’re so used to lying that they’d tell the public that Paris is the capital of Luxembourg, or that Schleswig-Holstein was a type of beer brewed in Iowa, and that Boris Johnson was Qahless, Emperor of the Klingons, if they could get away with it. Or if one of their paymasters in big business paid them.

Last week they were firmly trounced by the House of Lords, which threw out their plans to cut tax credit for the very poorest families. As a result, they’ve thrown their teddies out their prams, and promised to go round the Lord’s to give them a good kicking. David Cameron started ranting about how ‘undemocratic’ the House was, and how he was going to flood it with good and loyal Tories, who would all vote his way in future, so there!

And yar, boo, sucks to the rest of us.

Have I Got News For You on Friday pointed out that the House of Lords already has 800 or so members. This is large enough without the further 100 Cameron is planning to pack in there.

They also showed a clip of a Tory official, giving his learned opinion on the constitutional origins and purpose of the House of Lords. By ‘ learned opinion’, I do, of course, mean ‘lies’.

The official stated that the purpose of the House of Lords was simply to revise legislation. It’s scope was strictly limited to taxation. The House of Lords had exceeded the scope of its functions, and needed to be reformed. QED.

Not quite.

The House of Lords is basically a remnant of the feudal grand council, going all the way back to the witangemot, in Anglo-Saxon times, which monarchs called to advise them. It is not limited to examining matters of taxation, and has always had the power to throw out legislation. It may only do this three times. It constitutional purpose is to examine and amend legislation passed by the Lower House, in accordance with the theory of the separation of powers. It is also designed to act as a constitutional check on the power of the monarchy.

It was the House of Commons that was originally set up to examine matters of taxation. It was established by Simon de Montfort during the thirteenth century. The English Crown wanted to raise taxes, and the aristocracy refused to do so unless they had a say in how it was spent. The House of Commons is basically one section of the feudal grand council, which has been amended so that its members are elected, rather than sit by hereditary right or the monarch’s pleasure. And its constitutional function was to check the oligarchic power of the Lords.

Of course, the Tories have absolutely no objections to oligarchy, and really want to bring it all back. Hence their reforms to the registration process, which will leave about ten million people disenfranchised. They do, however, have a problem with members of the House of Lords, who suddenly wake up and do their constitutional duty, rather than simply collecting their expenses and going home. Hence all the fury from the Tory benches.

Not everyone was taken by the guff the Tories have been spouting about the origins of parliament and the British constitution. On the clip shown by Have I Got News For You, the lady MP standing next to the Tory was most spectacularly unimpressed, as his lies flowed out of him. She responded by pulling faces. It’s probably the best response possible to this latest barrage of Tory lies.

Of course, they’re hoping that people will be taken in by it. After all, they’ve always considered themselves the natural party of government, and Tory clubs up and down the country have called themselves ‘Constitutional Clubs’. This assault on the constitution and the British people’s constitutional liberties shows that they aren’t. But they won’t tell you that, just more lies.

Immigration, ID Cards and the Erosion of British Freedom: Part 1

October 12, 2013

‘The true danger is when liberty is nibbled away, for expedience, and by parts’.

– Edmund Burke.

Edmund Burke is regarded as the founder of modern Conservatism, the defender of tradition, freedom, and gradual change against revolutionary innovation based solely on abstract principle. He was also the 18th century MP, who successfully campaigned for the Canadian provinces to be given self-government on the grounds that, as they paid their taxes, so they had earned their right to government. His defence of tradition came from his observation of the horror of the French Revolution and his ideas regarding their political and social causes, as reflected in his great work, Reflections on the Revolution in France. While his Conservatism may justly be attacked by those on the Left, the statement on the gradual, incremental danger to liberty is still very much true, and should be taken seriously by citizens on both the Left and Right sides of the political spectrum. This should not be a party political issue.

In my last post, I reblogged Mike’s article commenting on recent legislation attempting to cut down on illegal immigration. This essentially devolved the responsibility for checking on the status of immigrants to private individuals and organisations, such as banks and landlords. As with much of what the government does, or claims to do, it essentially consists of the state putting its duties and responsibilities into the private sphere. Among the groups protesting at the proposed new legislation were the BMA, immgrants’ rights groups and the Residential Landlords’ Association. The last were particularly concerned about the possible introduction of identification documents, modelled on the 404 European papers, in order to combat illegal immigration. Such fears are neither new nor unfounded. I remember in the early 1980s Mrs Thatcher’s administration considered introduction ID cards. The plan was dropped as civil liberties groups were afraid that this would create a surveillance society similar to that of Nazi Germany or the Communist states. The schemes were mooted again in the 1990s first by John Major’s administration, and then by Blair’s Labour party, following pressure from the European Union, which apparently considers such documents a great idea. The Conservative papers then, rightly but hypocritically, ran articles attacking the scheme.

There are now a couple of books discussing and criticising the massive expansion of state surveillance in modern Britain and our gradual descent into just such a totalitarian surveillance state portrayed in Moore’s V for Vendetta. One of these is Big Brother: Britain’s Web of Surveillance and the New Technological Order, by Simon Davies, published by Pan in 1996. Davies was the founder of Privacy International, a body set up in 1990 to defend individual liberties from encroachment by the state and private corporations. He was the Visiting Law Fellow at the University of Essex and Chicago’s John Marshall Law School. Davies was suspicious of INSPASS – the Immigration and Naturalisation Service Passenger Accelerated Service System, an automatic system for checking and verifying immigration status using palm-prints and smart cards. It was part of the Blue Lane information exchange system in which information on passengers was transmitted to different countries ahead of the journey. The countries using the system were the US, Canada, Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Bermuda, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, San Marino, Spain, Sweden and the UK. Davies considered the scheme a danger to liberty through the state’s increasing use of technology to monitor and control the population.

At the time Davies was writing, 90 countries used ID cards including Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal. They also included such sterling examples of democracy as Thailand and Singapore. In the latter, the ID card was used as an internal passport and was necessary for every transaction. The Singaporean government under Lee Kwan Yew has regularly harassed and imprisoned political opponents. The longest serving prisoner of conscience isn’t in one of the Arab despotisms or absolute monarchies, nor in Putin’s Russia. They’re in Singapore. A few years ago the country opened its first free speech corner, modelled on Hyde Park’s own Speaker’s Corner. You were free to use it, provided you gave due notice about what you were planning to talk about to the police first for their approval. There weren’t many takers. As for Thailand, each citizen was issued a plastic identity card. The chip in each contained their thumbprint and photograph, as well as details of their ancestry, education, occupation, nationality, religion, and police records and tax details. It also contains their Population Number, which gives access to all their documents, whether public or private. It was the world’s second largest relational database, exceeded in size only by that of the Mormon Church at their headquarters in Salt Lake City. Thailand also has a ‘village information system’, which collates and monitors information at the village level. This is also linked to information on the person’s electoral preferences, public opinion data and information on candidates in local elections. The Bangkok post warned that the system would strengthen the interior ministry and the police. If you needed to be reminded, Thailand has regularly appeared in the pages of the ‘Letter from…’ column in Private Eye as it is a barely disguised military dictatorship.

In 1981 France’s President Mitterand declared that ‘the creation of computerised identity cards contains are real danger for the liberty of individuals’. This did not stop France and the Netherlands passing legislation requiring foreigners to carry identity cards. The European umbrella police organisation, Europol, also wanted all the nations in Europe to force their citizens to carry identity cards. At the global level, the International Monetary Fund routinely included the introduction of ID cards into the criteria of economic, social and political performance for nations in the developing world.

Davies’ own organisation, Privacy International, founded in 1990, reported than in their survey of 50 countries using ID cards, the police in virtually all of them abused the system. The abuses uncovered by the organisation included detention after failure to produce the card, and the beating of juveniles and members of minorities, as well as massive discrimination based on the information the card contained.

In Australia, the financial sector voiced similar concerns about the scheme to those expressed recently by the landlords and immigrants’ rights and welfare organisations. Under the Australian scheme, employees in the financial sector were required by law to report suspicious information or abuse of ID cards to the government. The penalty for neglecting or refusing to do so was gaol. The former chairman of the Pacific nation’s largest bank, Westpar, Sir Noel Foley, attacked the scheme. It was ‘a serious threat to the privacy, liberty and safety of every citizen’. The Australian Financial Review stated in an editorial on the cards that ‘It is simply obscene to use revenue arguments (‘We can make more money out of the Australia Card’) as support for authoritarian impositions rather than take the road of broadening national freedoms’. Dr Bruce Shepherd, the president of the Australian Medical Association stated of the scheme that ‘It’s going to turn Australian against Australian. But given the horrific impact the card will have on Australia, its defeat would almost be worth fighting a civil war for’. To show how bitterly the country that produced folk heroes like Ned Kelly thought of this scheme, cartoons appeared in the Ozzie papers showing the country’s president, Bob Hawke, in Nazi uniform.

For those without ID cards, the penalties were harsh. They could not be legally employed, or, if in work, paid. Farmers, who didn’t have them, could not collect payments from marketing boards. If you didn’t have a card, you also couldn’t access your bank account, cash in any investments, give or receive money from a solicitor, or receive money from unity, property or cash management trusts. You also couldn’t rent or buy a home, receive unemployment benefit, or the benefits for widows, supporting parents, or for old age, sickness and invalidity. There was a A$5,000 fine for deliberate destruction of the card, a A$500 fine if you lost the card but didn’t report it. The penalty for failing to attend a compulsory conference at the ID agency was A$1,000 or six months gaol. The penalty for refusing to produce it to the Inland Revenue when they demanded was A$20,000. About 5 per cent of the cards were estimated to be lost, stolen or deliberately destroyed each year.

The ID Card was too much for the great Australian public to stomach, and the scheme eventually had to be scrapped. It’s a pity that we Poms haven’t learned from our Ozzie cousins and that such ID schemes are still being seriously contemplated over here. It is definitely worth not only whingeing about, but protesting very loudly and strongly indeed.

In Part 2 of this article, I will describe precisely what the scheme does not and cannot do, despite all the inflated claims made by its proponents.